John Bond Francisco The Sick Child, Date: 1893, Technic: Oil on Canvas, Dimensions: 81,3 x 121,8 cm (32 x 48 in), Location: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Art Movement: Realism
In The Sick Child the green walls and pale sheets emphasize the boy’s flushed skin, and although his eyes are closed, he does not appear to rest comfortably. This poignant scene portrays a bedridden child clutching a beloved toy, his medications on the night table. His mother knits at his side. Despite the light that streams over him from an unseen source at right, the prognosis remains in doubt.
For this “exceptionally fine salon picture;’ as a critic described it, Francisco chose a subject frequently rendered in the late nineteenth century. The century’s end saw an epidemic of tuberculosis, perhaps the cause of the tragic moment depicted here. Francisco probably encountered the theme while studying music and art in Germany and France, but he may have chosen the subject for personal reasons.
An undated newspaper article from about this time reports that the artist and his wife lost their three-year-old “flaxen-haired fairy” Yvette, whose death took”all the light and sweetness of life from the household.” Although two more children would bless the family, Francisco abandoned figure painting, finding solace and his true mission as an artist in the glories of the California landscape.